Doggy Park Etiquette - By Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, APDT, ABC Mentor Trainer, & Owner of Merit Puppy Training

Saturday, January 30, 2010 : 12:18:34 PM
Updated Thursday, August 18, 2011 : 10:03:15 AM
Dog parks are becoming increasingly popular as more and more space is being designated especially for dogs. Now we need protocol in order to ensure safety and healthiness for all those dogs and dog owners who attend the off-leash parks as well as those people who live around them. Otherwise, the frequency of dog bites, dog fights, and the smell of feces clinging to our shoes will continue, ultimately giving dog parks a bad rap. Good manners coupled with common sense will result in proper dog-park etiquette.

In order for you and your clients to effectively practice proper doggy-park etiquette and to create a mutually-amicable, dog-friendly community, follow the instructions and utilize the advice given here, and make sure to educate your clients to do the same.

1. Scoop the dog’s poop in order to reduce the risk of fostering a bacterial breeding ground that the dogs would play in and neighbors would walk through. Carry a bundle of plastic bags when you’re out with your dog, and keep your dog off of your neighbors’ properties.
2. Obey your city’s leash laws, keep your dog on-leash until you have entered the gated play area, take off any training collars and leave only a well-fitting buckle collar, and always keep your leash in-hand.
3. Don’t allow dogs in the play area to rush the entryway when a new dog enters the park. Some dogs object to strangers (canine or human) in their faces.
4. Absolutely no aggressive dogs, un-socialized dogs, any dog with a history of fighting and biting or uncontrollable barking should be allowed in the park.
5. Carry your dog’s rabies certificate with you. Dogs can easily lose their tags while playing with other dogs.
6. Do not wait until it is time to go home to call your dog. Frequently call your dog and praise him for coming to you; then, allow him to go and play again.
7. Don’t let your dog harass other dogs. If you own a bully-type dog, please be cautious for other dogs. Don’t ruin the play experience for another dog by allowing your dog to pick on him.
8. Be honest when assessing your dog’s ability to interact appropriately with other dogs and people. Fellow dog owners depend on you knowing your dog very well and reacting appropriately.
9. Be willing to admit that your dog is not dog-park material. You’re not alone. Not every dog has an appropriate attitude for being off-leash and freely interacting with other dogs at the dog park.
10. Know when your dog has had enough and leave the park on a happy note. Like children, dogs can become grouchy when tired or overheated.

Given so many variables, no one can predict with 100 accuracy that a dog in any given situation will not bite or fight. If you or your client has doubts about the client’s dog, advise the owner to err on the side of caution and avoid the dog park. Dogs are dogs; it doesn’t mean that they will get along with every other dog. That’s as silly as saying, “I’m human, so I should get along with all other humans.” Dogs running loose, even within the safety of a fenced-in park, are at some risk. The potential for pack mentality to kick in when dogs are running free without owner intervention is possible. The astute dog owner will use her training skills to scan the park frequently as her dog plays and interrupt any inappropriate behavior at the first sign of a problem. This means that every dog owner needs to keep an eye on her dog. There are times when letting dogs work things out for themselves is possible; however, the dog park is not always the best choice for this phenomenon to take place.

The prerequisite for dogs to attend any off-leash facility should be their successful and obedient completion of a string of commands. That way, the dog can balance his playtime with training. The owner should not let the dog forget that she is there – instruct your clients to be creative while implementing fun training sessions during playtime. All dog owners must remind their pooches that they can be fun, too. Have your clients make a habit out of calling their dogs habitually during playtime with their buddies, cueing them to ‘check-in’ with their owners periodically.

This technique will boost the owner’s recall potential and improve the relationship that she has with her dog at the park. It may also help to educate other dog owners and prompt them to question why the owner keeps calling her dog. The recall is so important that it should be used frequently during the dog’s playtime to ensure the safety of the dog as well as that of other dogs at the park. Suppose a few canines get into a rumble; if the owner has a good recall, she will increase the chance of getting her dog out of a sticky situation. It is not guaranteed that the dog will not get into a fight or hurt another dog or person; it’s simply a safety net and an exercise in good park manners.

Recently, at a dog park, a few dogs became involved in some rough play with one canine who was clearly uncomfortable with the interaction. Only one owner intervened by calling his dog out of the situation; the owner’s timing was impeccable – the dog immediately turned her attention away from the rumble and joyfully ran to her owner and sat. During the course of my two-and-a-half hour observation, this owner called his dog many times and was the only person I saw attending to his dog via the recall system. When it was time to go, he called his dog, attached the leash to her buckle collar, and they left. In contrast, I watched one woman call her young dog several times to no avail. Finally, the dog slinked forward after circling around and she managed to corner him and feebly attach the prong collar and leash. This dog was never called during playtime; it was apparent that the owner had taught her puppy that coming when called meant the end of playtime; this owner had no safety net.

Naïve dog owners with untrained or un-socialized dogs in a park environment, especially within a neighborhood, can create havoc. It’s important for every dog owner to know how to read canine body language and gauge comfort levels. Understanding canine gestures can help the dog owner to recognize the personalities of the other dogs at the park and therefore learn to distinguish between ‘nice’ play and ‘not-so-nice’ play. Dog owners need to pay closer attention and watch for their dogs’ inappropriate behavior towards other dogs, and people. The growing popularity of dog parks is great for responsible dog owners whose dogs have good manners; hopefully they can help to create opportunities for all dog owners to network and incorporate guidelines that will encourage education. The well-educated dog owner can help the inexperienced handler to take more responsibility in shaping her dog’s behavior and training while learning the importance of a good recall before letting her dog off-leash. We want to keep our dog parks, so each and every dog owner should take responsibility for their dogs’ behavior and respect the property of their neighbors, especially the non-doggy-owning population.

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